Women are the masters of multi-tasking. Time and again we have come across women from different walks of life that have shown that women don’t just belong to the kitchens. As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, with a hope to eliminate the discrimination of women worldwide, let’s take a look back to the brave heroines of India who fought fiercely and fearlessly to free India from the British Rule.
There were hundreds of women belonging to different religions who came together, all sharing a common dream- Freedom of India, which now is the world’s largest democracy. These women were determined, courageous and fearless. The flame in their mind for creating a better tomorrow was extremely high. Amongst these, some we know, and some we don’t; some we remember and some we are struggling to not forget.
Some of these prominent freedom fighters have left a deep mark in the history of India, yet are very little known of. To mention, a few of them are:
Rani of Jhansi- Laxmibai
Born: 19 November 1828
Death: 18 June 1858
Manikarnika or Rani Laxmibai was the queen of the Jhansi, North India. She was one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Although born in a Maratha family, her upbringing was not that of a normal Brahmin girl. She was taught martial arts, riding, and sword fighting.
She was married to Gangadhar Rao, the Maharaja of Jhansi, in 1842. Situations entered a bad phase with the death of the Maharaja. The Maharaja and Laxmibai’s only heir to the throne, Damodar Rao, died when he was about four months old. As per the Hindu tradition before his death, the Raja adopted a son to be his successor. However, the then Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie refused to recognize their adopted son as the next Raja. An agent of the East India Company was appointed to look after the administrative matters of the kingdom. But Rani Laxmibai resented this and fought against the British. Soon, she became a ‘symbol of resistance’ to the British and was proclaimed the Regent of Jhansi. She died in 1858 in the Battle of Kotah ki Serai, commanded by Sir Hugh Rose.
Born: 19 October 1870.
Died: 29 September 1942.
Matangini Hazra was popularly known as ‘The Gandhi Buri’. She was deeply inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings. She actively took part in the Non-Cooperation movement and the Quit India movement. She was also a part of the Indian National Congress. Her death was that of a true patriot. She died with the tri-coloured Indian Flag in her hand, chanting ‘Vande Mataram’, even after being shot thrice, during one procession. She breathed her last in front of Tamluk Police Station. She was the first woman to have her statue put up in Kolkata in 1977. It was exactly in the spot where she was killed. Even a road in Kolkata is given a name after her, called the ‘Hazra Road’.
Born: 13 February 1879
Death: 2 March 1949
Sarojini Naidu (Chattopadhyay) was a gifted poet and activist. She was given the title of ‘Nightingale of India’ for the former. Sarojini joined the Indian National Movements in 1905, with the wake of Partition of Bengal. She traveled to different regions in India delivering motivational speeches on nationalism, women’s empowerment and social welfare. The speeches were meant to arise the feeling of Nationalism among the people. Sarojini Naidu was the first woman Governor of any state- United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. She was the first Indian woman to become the president of the Indian National Congress. She accompanied Gandhi to London for the second session of the Round Table Conference. Due to her prominence, she has been put behind the bars various times – 1930, 1932 and 1942-43. ‘The Feather of Dawn’, ‘The Bird of Time’ and ‘The Golden Threshold’ are some of her prominent works.
Kittur Rani Chennama
Born: 23 October 1778
Death: 21 February 1829
Chennama was the queen of a former princely state in Karnataka called Kittur. She was one of the first women rulers to fight against the British. However, she has gained only a little recognition in comparison to her efforts to free India. In 1824, at the age of 33, she led an Army of Rebellion, against the British policy ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. However, she was defeated in the third war and died imprisoned. Although defeated, Chenamma evoked the fire of rebellion amongst the people.
Born: 24 October 1914
Death: 23 July 2012
Known as ‘Captain Laxmi Sahgal’, Sahgal was a doctor and a social activist. She was an officer of the Indian National Army, founded by Subhas Chandra Bose. She was also the Minister of Women’s affairs in the Azad Hind Government. Sahgal led and established ‘The Rani of Jhansi Regiment’ that comprised of women soldiers. Before she joined the INA, Sahgal for her role in the Second World War, had to serve a sentence in a prison in Burma. She was honored with Padma Vibhushan for her selfless contribution to society.
Born: 25 June 1908
Death: 1 December 1974
Kriplani was the first woman Chief Minister of India. She came in the forefront with her contribution to the Quit India Movement. She also worked with Gandhi during the partition riots. Kriplani founded the ‘All India Mahila Congress’ in 1940.
Kriplani was a part of the Indian National Congress. She sang ‘Vande Mataram’ right before the famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech of Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly. She was one amongst the few women who were elected as a part of the Constituent Assembly, earning a position in the drafting subcommittee of the Indian Constitution.
Moolmati was the mother of the revolutionist Ram Prasad Bismil. Bismil founded the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association along with Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqulla Khan and others in 1928. She was a simple yet fierce, brave and strong woman and a mother who bravely stood like a pillar beside her son when he was arrested and hanged at Gorakhpur jail.
Before Bismil was to be hanged, she went and met him at the jail and remained unmoved even when Bismil broke down in front of her. Instead, she said that she was proud to have a brave son like he was. After he was hanged, Moolmati at a public gathering offered her other son in the struggle of freeing India.
Born: 11 April 1869
Death: 22 February 1942
Kasturba Gandhi was the better half of Mahatma Gandhi. She was first arrested in South Africa for protesting against the ill-treatment of Indian immigrants there and served in a hard labour jail for three months. After that, she along with Mahatma Gandhi permanently shifted to India. She continued to take part in the protests that were led by Gandhi to free India. Kasturba used to teach discipline, health and hygiene, as well as reading and writing. Although she spent most of the time serving people in the ashrams, she also took the spot of her husband when he used to be arrested and served in jail. Although she did not come in the forefront much, she played an important role in the struggle of freedom from behind the curtains.
Born: 3 April 1903
Death: 29 October 1988
Kamaladevi was the first woman to be arrested by the British Government for her tremendously active participation in the struggle for freedom. She was the first woman candidate of the Legislative Assembly.
Apart from this, she was also a theater actor. She was known to be a fierce and fearless woman who was also a social reformer. She played a vital role in reviving theater, handicrafts, and handlooms in India after its Independence. She also uplifted the economic and social standard of Indian women.
Aruna Asaf Ali
Born: 16 July 1909
Death: 26 July 1996
Aruna Asaf Ali was popularly called ‘The Grand Old Lady’. She is best known for hoisting the Indian National flag during the Quit India Movement, in Gowalia Tank in Bombay, 1942. She also actively participated in the Salt Satyagraha Movement and other participation movements. She was arrested for so-called her lack of respect. However, instead of breaking down, she protested against the ill-treatment of the prisoners by going on a hunger strike. This resulted in the improvement of the condition of the prisoners in Tihar jail.